Judicial Commission: History & Background

The Association's current Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention was organized in 1977 as the successor to the previous ad hoc Commission on Merit Retention and the Association's Judiciary Committee. The duties and the composition of the Commission remained unchanged for several years, with the exception of the establishment of a 45-person Investigative Division, which began its work in 1981. Reflecting the increased rigor of investigations over the years, the size of the Division has been expanded twice – to 90 members in the late 1980s and to 120 members in 2002. In order to bring a variety of experience and viewpoints to the investigative process, one third of the membership of the Investigative Division must be non-lawyers. In 1984, the Commission's composition was expanded to include the chairs of the Association's Women's Rights and Municipal Court committees, as well as those of the Probate and Trust Law and Family Law sections. The presidents of the Barristers' Association of Philadelphia and of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania were also added as ex officio voting members at that time. In 1991, the Commission was expanded to include the president of the Asian-American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley.

The Commission primarily evaluates candidates for local judicial office, although the Commission may from time to time also evaluate candidates for state-wide appellate judicial office or for a federal court position but is required by its own internal procedures to consider the following factors in making that decision:
  1. whether the Commission has been requested to provide an evaluation by the Pennsylvania Bar Association or the American Bar Association;
  2. whether the candidate has already served on a statewide or Federal bench for a sufficient period of time to permit an evaluation of his or her performance in such an office;
  3. whether the candidate is a member of the Philadelphia Bar; and
  4. whether such evaluation would be in the public interest.
Since the administration of Governor Milton Shapp, the Commission has had agreements with each Governor of the Commonwealth that only candidates found Recommended by the Commission would be appointed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. As a result of these agreements, the Commission has worked closely with the Governors' Trial Court Nominating Commissions to convey the results of Commission investigations and evaluations of candidates seeking appointment to the bench. The Commission also has had agreements with the Philadelphia Democratic and Republican committees that the political parties will not slate candidates for judicial office who have not been found Recommended by the Commission.

The Commission makes its evaluations and recommendations known to the public through press releases and written advertisements. In addition, the Campaign For Qualified Judges, the Association's political action committee, raises funds on behalf of only those candidates who are found Recommended by the Commission.